Last December, when the University of Miami won its first bowl game in 10 years, the jubilation was palpable — the heartbeats of a surging Hurricanes program bringing joy to the community, drawing coveted recruits and giving UM its first top-20, final-season ranking since 2009.
On Saturday, No. 10 Miami (10-2) can expect more program-enriching jewels should it pull off another post-season victory against No. 6 Wisconsin (12-1) in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Count top-10 final ranking, top-10 preseason ranking, community love, big-time confidence and coveted future recruits to join UM’s already heralded 2018 recruiting class, should Miami earn the upset.
“We’ll be on fire,” said Hurricanes linebacker Shaq Quarterman during a news conference this week. “I believe in my guys to the fullest. I know that I wouldn’t have gotten on the bus and come down here to this nice hotel if I didn’t know we could win the game.”
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The Hurricanes haven’t played in this bowl since Jan. 2, 2004 (a 16-14 victory against Florida State to culminate the 2003 season), and despite being at home at Hard Rock Stadium, are 5 1/2-point underdogs.
“We’ve had some tremendous evenings this season in Hard Rock Stadium,” UM coach Mark Richt said Friday. “We want to have another one.”
The Hurricanes, designated the home team by virtue of their affiliation with the Atlantic Coast Conference, will be back in black Saturday with their all-black, Adidas “Miami Nights” uniforms in which they thrilled a home crowd of nearly 64,000 to defeat Virginia Tech early last month.
“I feel like it’s going to be a huge advantage,” UM quarterback Malik Rosier said of playing at Hard Rock. “I know that fans are excited. I’ve had so many people hit me up and tell me they’re ready to come out to the game. Our fans can be very intimidating. They’re loud.”
The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-60s for the 8 p.m. kickoff, dropping a few degrees by game’s end, with no rain in sight.
The Madison, Wisconsin — home of the Big Ten’s Badgers — forecast for Saturday at kickoff: minus-3 degrees.
“It’s been a great week,” said Wisconsin cornerback Nick Nelson, whose Badgers’ pass defense is ranked fourth in the nation, along with a scoring defense ranked third, rushing defense ranked second and overall No. 1 defense. “It has been hot in practice and I’ve been wearing extra layers just to make myself sweat more.”
The Hurricanes won’t have the weather to worry about, but they will have to contend with a Wisconsin team that won its first 12 games before losing to Ohio State 27-21 in the Big Ten Championship.
Had the Badgers won that game, they’d be in the College Football Playoff contending for a national title. As it is, they’ll be playing for their first 13-win season in the 126-year history of the program.
And had the Hurricanes beaten No. 1 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, they, too, would be in the CFP contending for a sixth national title. UM has not had an 11-victory season since 2003, when the Canes went 11-2.
With UM winning its first 10 games this season and Wisconsin winning its first 12, that’s a combined 22-0 for these teams before a combined 0-3 — losses at Pittsburgh and to Clemson for Miami and the Big Ten title loss for Wisconsin.
Richt agreed that UM’s first ACC title game against a major power on a national stage might have had the Canes a bit jittery, but in the long run helped prepare them for the Badgers. He called the 84th annual Orange Bowl “an iconic bowl in our country.”
“So, here we are, playing in it, playing against a great team, a team that’s going to challenge us in every way — offense, defense, special teams, as coaches, the whole thing,” Richt said. “All those experiences add up to guys that will have a greater comfort level when it comes around the second time.
“Sometimes you can’t learn a lesson until you go through the trial.”
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said he knows his team “is not finished yet.”
“We’re playing this one to try to earn the right to be called Orange Bowl champions,” Chryst said. “That’s all this game is about, and it’s a ton.’’
Besides an outstanding defense, Wisconsin has one of the best running backs in the nation in freshman Jonathan Taylor, fourth in the nation in rushing yards (1,847) and third in rushing yards per game (142.1). Taylor is 79 yards away from breaking Adrian Peterson’s single-season FBS freshman record, and UM’s defense badly wants to prevent it from happening.
“It’s scary,” said UM defensive tackle RJ McIntosh of what happens when defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has three weeks to study a team.
Senior Braxton Berrios doesn’t care how it’s done, he just wants to end his college career with a victory.
“Every year we’ve gotten better,” Berrios said. “It means a lot to all of us seniors to try to go out on top… 10-3 is good, but 9-4 [in 2016] to 11-2 – Orange Bowl champions – is even better.’’
No. 10 Miami vs. No. 6 Wisconsin
What: Capital One Orange Bowl.
Kickoff: 8 p.m.; Hard Rock Stadium.
TV/radio: ESPN/WQAM 560; WMEN 640; 990 ESPN Deportes.
Favorite: Wisconsin by 5 1/2.
Records: Miami 10-2 (ACC); Wisconsin 12-1 (Big Ten).
Series: Tied 2-2.
Miami injuries: Out — WR Ahmmon Richards (knee); TE Christopher Herndon IV (knee); LB Charles Perry (knee); DL Demetrius Jackson (knee); WR Evidence Njoku (knee); RB Mark Walton (ankle); LB Jamie Gordinier (knee).
Wisconsin injuries: Questionable — LB Noah Burks (leg). Out — RB Bradrick Shaw (leg); TE Zander Neuville (leg); WR Quintez Cephus (leg); S Patrick Johnson (arm); RB Taiwan Deal (ankle); LB Mason Stokke (leg); RB Sam Brodner (knee); LB Zack Baun (foot); LB Jack Cichy (knee).